01 Feb Two Days in Mumbai
Around midnight I land, dusty and tired from a long flight from London – and Mumbai was like an electric shock. Arriving for a cultural safari with the collective Creative Social I wandered through an airport that had changed unimaginably since I first strolled through on my way to do a charity motorcycle ride in 2001.
Much like the city itself, Mumbai airport has gone from feeling like a slightly dusty (if enormous) outpost, to a gorgeous, glitzy palace of a place with all the amenities you could imagine. But, no time to loiter at the airport as I was there for the 26th Creative Social Global and it was a matter of hours until the schedule got under way.
After introductions and lunch, a tour of Fort & Kala Ghoda – a reflection of the spirit of Mumbai, of business, commerce, art and culture and a living monument to fusion of traditional and contemporary that makes Mumbai such an exciting place.
We then heard from Marlies Bloemendaal who moved to Mumbai in 2007 after 15 years in Antwerp and set up the co-working space Ministry of New. For anyone considering the life of a creative expat in Mumbai, this was fascinating stuff.
From co-working, to the Startup Sessions with Lightbox Ventures, an entrepreneur-focused VC, providing a unique perspective on the startup culture in India and some secrets on how to spot that elusive unicorn.
Taxi Fabric and The Retyrement Plan are just two of the innovative startups thriving in Mumbai’s business community and it was fascinating to hear about their ventures. As we were introduced to both, I realised that the Retyrement Plan’s recycled furniture pieces would look perfect in my living room.
The evening’s entertainment – prefaced with a polite warning to avoid a hangover the next day – was drinks and then a scenic walk to Khyber restaurant.
We followed in the shoes of the likes of Demi Moore, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Richard Branson and Kuwait Royal Family and dined on delicately spiced dishes and the favourite foods of the Mughal Emperors.
Day 2 dawned bright and early – and thankfully, hangover free. This was the tour of Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum and home to 22 million souls living and working in less than 2km square of space.
Our Reality Tours guide, an articulate English speaker from Dharavi, explained that a slum is simply defined as an area where people live on Government land. As you approach Dharavi from Mahim Station, the view becomes a little unsettling for a voyeuristic westerner wandering around the private lives of slum dwellers.
But there was never a threatening glance or jostle, only the occasional stare or cheeky kids playfully doing what cheeky kids do the world over. A ‘no photo’ policy helps – the guide explained we could download pictures from their gallery, which meant we could listen and focus on what was being said.
He went on to explain that residents recognised that a share of the profits from tours would be invested back in the community, so we were welcomed by many and tolerated by a few.
What was so surprising was that while these areas may look like ghettos or shanty towns draped in iconic blue tarpaulins to protect from the monsoon, there’s an eco system. Small scale industry, banks, healthcare, schools, bakeries, restaurants and craftsmen – and they are nearly all men – operating everything from lathes to sewing machines.
After a stop at the Taj Mahal Tea House in the Portuguese village of Bandra for lunch, we made our way to the design and visual communication French school, founded in 2001, for the last series of talks.
These ranged from Bollywood insights, to exploring Mumbai’s new digital economy and finished with a look at the ‘real India’ and the country’s future.
As always, the round table Creative Social brainstorm was insightful and inspiring – a reminder of just how useful creatives coming together like this can be.
At the end of the day, with a lot to talk about, we were hosted at Café Zoe where the drinks were cold and the topics of conversation hot.
A lively end to a busy two days in Mumbai that revealed so many of the city’s secrets and a new perspective on its potential.